When teachers win, students win; when the powerful win, we all lose!

Chicago teachers are among the latest teachers who have been on strike: for better wages, for better working conditions, and for better resources with which to teach and care for their students properly. As of Friday, November 1st, the teachers have returned to the classroom after nearly two weeks of battling with the newly elected mayor, Lori Lightfoot, mostly for funding that she promised the city during her campaign. 

The teachers were asking for the same that is provided to public school students in more affluent suburbs, a promise Lightfoot made when sworn in as mayor. But when the time came, Lightfoot walked back on her promises, refusing to agree to put resolutions to systemic issues in the contracts, such as staffing increases or adding class size caps. Following the budget, she went so far as to vow that there was, “no more money left for a bailout of the school district.” 

Were it not for the teachers and unions striking to address these issues, it would have been the students who would suffer. Larger class sizes mean students are not receiving the attention they deserve; staffing outside of teachers means that students would not be able to access any services that they would need to succeed. In short, Lightfoot vowed to stifle the students in the poorer neighborhoods. Teachers declared this unacceptable!

The unions repeatedly argued, rightly so for the gentrified city, that there was plenty of wealth in the city to invest in schools and public services. The problem was the wealth had concentrated in the wrong hands, through excessive funding of the Chicago Police and tax cuts for corporations and luxury real estate, all at the expense of children, health clinics, affordable housing, public mental health clinics, and other services. Lightfoot promised $95 million for a police academy, training police instead of investing in the most marginalized community. The city already spends $1.5 billion a year on police presence, almost $4 million every single day, all to police Black and Brown bodies in the gentrifying city.

The money needed to reduce overcrowded classrooms and require the city to hire social workers and nurses in every school within five years is a mere $35 million, not much given Chicago’s readily available funds. The union won pay bumps for support staff who were making poverty wages. The teachers were on strike for ten days before the mayor conceded to demands. They still fell short, but the victory is not just for them but for the students in the classroom. 

CTU and SEIU 73 also used the demonstrations to touch upon the massive inequality in the city, brought on by a neoliberal agenda that was private enterprise friendly but public services lacking. They highlighted an opaque financing tool known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) that is intended to funnel additional property tax dollars to blighted areas but is actually a “corporate slash fund.” On Tuesday,  October 29, nine CTU members were arrested at the headquarters of Sterling Bay to protest the city’s decision to award a Wall-Street backed developer with more than $1 billion of TIF subsidies earlier in the year.

While Lightfoot ran on progressive policies and to battle the entrenchment of Chicago politics, her attitudes toward the police and the school district are reminiscent of someone who haunts Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. When teachers strike, when teachers fight, that is the real battle against Chicago politics. And when they win, they win for themselves and their students and colleagues.

(Photo Credit: Teen Vogue)

In the Streets of Chile, the People are Singing: El Derecho de Vivir en Paz

Under the military dictatorship of Pinochet in the 1970s, economic austerity was placed on the people of Chile. Under the guise of reform, neoliberalist measures on the people of Chile were implemented, resulting in widespread economic hardship and massive wealth inequality. For thirty years, the working class and indigenous populations in Chile suffered under Pinochet’s market-driven economic model, which privatized pensions, health and education. Unions were decimated as was the public education system, and public services were shifted to private enterprises. Chile remains a country with the highest cost of living in South America and is considered one of the most unequal in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development group of nations. 

The recent uprising occurring in the country began as a protest against a hike in metro ticket prices and quickly escalated into a massive revolt against the significant income inequality in the country. The proposed transit fare rate would have risen to nearly 1.20 a ride, a 4% increase; a significant burden placed on low-income families who spend 13% of their budgets on transportation, and retirees who are forced to survive on a pension that is below the minimum wage. 

The response to the simmering anger over the rising cost for the poor and old? That they just get up earlier and leave for work before seven in the morning to avoid paying the rush hour rate. Now after a million people took part in a demonstration on October 25th, thousands of other protests from poor, young, students, indigenous populations, and union workers, the government has finally realized that squeezing more money and work and time out of the poor may not be the most competent economic model. 

Piñera has walked back on the neoliberal policies that have entrenched inequality in Chile, but they are not enough. As the last nail in the coffin of Pinochet’s cruelty, his constitution is echoes the continuing destruction of working people and the elderly in the country. While Piñera has moved to raise the minimum wage and pensions, demand pay cuts from government officials, and fired his entire cabinet, many see these gestures as token and symbolic at best – Pinochet’s constitution is still in play – and have demanded a truly democratic society, where the power is not vested only in the hands of the wealthiest and the out of touch. And the people are not backing down, even after the president’s paltry promises.

Meanwhile, how are American citizens reacting to our overwhelming inequality; where are the uprisings that should have been in place after the NYC’s fare enforcement? Where is the anger when poor men and women are tackled and tased for not paying $2.00 while the city employees four cops at almost $80,000 a year to brutalize them? Will we ever be as revolutionary, or will it happen too late?

(Photo Credit: CanalC)

Remember the women in labor, because no one else will

In August, I lost my great-aunt.

She was 95 years old and was in relatively good health at the time. She worked from the moment she turned 13, and then, after she retired, went on to perform unpaid reproductive labor, taking care of her nieces and nephews, their children, and their children’s children. She was also an avid smoker, and we had assumed (at least partially correctly) that the new diagnosis of lung cancer was because of that. However, as we spoke more clearly with the hospice nurse, we realized that it was not only the two packs of Pall Mall golds she inhaled into her lungs a day that did her in, but her nearly 40 year career as a seamstress in a sweatshop, with the small particles of fabric every single day on her industrial grade sewing machine. 

How many people have received such dramatic diagnoses, and had it blamed on preconceived personal failings? How many people have injuries that are from years of the same, monotonous work without the employer taking the blame? And what about the women who face being labeled as invisible in the labor movements to address these issues? Because women need to remain a rather loud voice in the labor movement. We have always been the face of precarious labor.

I worked in a supermarket. Our union consisted largely of women, since it represented the bakery department. Highly gendered, as the creation of delicate pastries and pies is quintessentially a woman’s job, if they aren’t baking it home. Seriously, look at your local grocery store and you’ll see how gendered something as simple as picking up loaves of bread can really be. But…I digress.

The union rep was a man. The union president is a man. The union leaders remain men. Men who most likely have been out of the industry for a good twenty to thirty years. The secretaries are the women. And the people they represent are women. 

Do they understand the injuries we face daily? Do they understand that, after constant years of heavy lifting and labor, we face burns that never quite heal, carpal tunnel from squeezing pastry bags that require surgery down the line? Are they fighting for the long term physical issues we will have?

I have severe carpal tunnel in my left hands. I have muscles that hurt like a sixty year old woman. At 27, it is probably caused by my standing every day in the same place, or lifting heavy boxes. 

Those pains and injuries are not thought of, especially after we’re gone. They are labeled as inconsequential. Well, would you look at that! You have bad arthritis. Must’ve been your job, eh? Our injuries persist because of our labor and, as women, we bear that brunt because we are moved into the precarious workforce, where injuries exist, but are rarely seen until it’s too late. 

I am constantly thinking of my Tanty, of her aches and pains. The arthritis that caused her to walk with a limp and be unable to lift her arm above her head. The chronic bronchitis and heart failures, and trips to the emergency room for more of a tune-up than anything. Because she couldn’t get better. Her labor and work in the sweatshop is what killed her. Imagine where that labor has been shipped off to if it’s no longer in the United States. And the women who are laboring under worse conditions for those pieces of commodities. The women who most definitely will not make it to 95.

We need to defend our insurance, we need to continue to organize for women’s right and organize for women workers. Because at this point, who else will?

Banning abortion isn’t about morality: It’s the economy

Stop trying to convince anti-abortion folks that they should listen to the stories about a person’s choice with abortion: they don’t care. I don’t mean to imply that people who have had abortions should not go public, as it helps to end the stigma even within pro-choice organizations. Those in positions of power could care less about a person’s abortion story because the problem was never abortion. Just look at the extensive list of anti-abortion advocates whose motto boils down to “it’s OK for me; evil for thee.” A person shouldn’t have to air their personal and complex decisions with the hope that it would change some terrible peoples’ minds. It won’t, because it was never about abortion. 

Why, at this moment, are abortion bans happening? Think about the economic and population consideration that cause the state and those in power to decide that abortion and other contraceptives are suddenly immoral, that a woman’s essential purpose in life was motherhood and that sex was only for reproductive purposes. And if the birth of that child causes even more economic strain and forces those who can get pregnant into low-wage and exploitative labor? Well, that’s par for the course. If people have no choice but to pay back multiple medical bills even though they gave the child up for adoption? Well, get a second or third job. And if a person dies because they sought a back-alley abortion. Well, they deserved that punishment. A person goes to prison for miscarrying or for seeking an abortion only because they haven’t served their purpose of producing the next generation of workers, laborers and child-bearers, and the state deserves retribution, because we’re starting to need those next generations, desperately.

Abortion access and contraceptives have been banned or legalized depending on the state’s political and economic needs. Prior to the 19thcentury, a person could to a physician and end her pregnancy as long as it was before they could feel the fetus move. Growing concerns over the rise of Catholic immigrants served as a pretext for the rise of restriction to abortion, since immigration was infringing on the White Anglo-Saxon majority and Protestant were having fewer children. The first attempts at opposition to abortion and contraception were the Comstock Laws in 1873, passed to regulate information to the public about abortion, contraception, and sexually explicit material such as pornography. Fetal personhood hardly came into the argument until the early 20thcentury, and that argument was subsumed by the rise of religious morality which tied sex solely to the role of reproduction and not for pleasure. 

States implementing abortion restrictions saw birthrates drop from 37 to 29 births per 1000 population. Between 1900 and 1935-39 birth rates dropped to 17 per 1000, causing that lowering birthrates would have disastrous effects on the industrialized economy, which relied on the reproduction of laborers in the workforce. For enslaved peoples, access to birth control and abortion was expressly forbidden, since slaveowners saw slave children as adding to their human capital. Slaveowners routinely would put slaves together with the hopes of children being produced and tied a person’s status as a slave to the status of their mother, ensuring a continuous supply of enslaved individuals. 

Numerous examples highlight how abortion access and restriction is tied to economic and population needs of the state and elites in power. Despite its landmark ruling, Roe v. Wade was a continuation of regulating for those needs. Nowhere in the majority opinion does an individual’s choice come into the fore: 

“A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgement of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

For the stage of subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. 

For the stage subsequent to viability, [emphasis added] the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgement, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother…

This holding, we feel, is consistent with the relative weights of the respective interests involved, with the lessons and examples of medical and legal history, with the lenity of common, and with the demands of the profound problem of the present day.”

Even in such an important decision, the Supreme Court has given the state leeway to enact and decide regulations for a person’s right to choose what happens to their bodies. Wade was the beginning, but the work still needed to be done. Anti-abortion backlash happened almost immediately after the decision.

What is the economic and population landscape of American society now that is leading us back to a time where people are going to be criminalized for seeking abortions? What are people not seeing when it comes to the political landscape, where white men in positions of power can cry for the life of the fetus but demand that a mistress seek termination of a pregnancy? 

The US birthrate fell to a 32-year law in 2018, a 2% drop since 2017. Birthrates fell across all racial lines, a 1% fall for Latinx people and a 2% fall to Black and White individuals. The economy is desperate for higher birthrates, both for the future labor force and caregivers for the aging population. Instead of fixing economic factors that would lead to higher birthrates – a living wage, parental leave, a robust welfare state and single-payer healthcare –, states would rather criminalize any form of birth control to get the desired results. 

These decisions are further impelled by white supremacist ideology. Since the United States is going to have to rely heavily on immigrants to supplement those labor needs, a white majority in an Anglo-Saxon society is once again in “danger” of turning into a minority. The same racist fears that led to bans in abortion and contraceptives are being rehashed. That is why we cannot rely on the state, Democrats in power and a better President to save us by telling the stories of the individuals that have had abortions. That is why calling for safe abortions to happen because back-alley abortions will kill people won’t matter.  Again, they don’t care. Stop giving pro-life the “sensible” debate about a person’s choice. From here on, and as before, we can only rely on each other to ensure a person’s bodily autonomy.

(Photo Credit: Women’s Web)

This Mother’s Day, remember the women who can’t be with their children: Support Black Mama’s Bail Out Day

This year, remember the women who can’t celebrate Mother’s Day with their children because of the exploitation of black women in the criminal justice system. Help the work being done to make sure that women forced to remain in jail can be home with their children for Mother’s Day. This Mother’s Day will mark the third annual Black Mama’s Bail Out Campaign, a grassroots community-based movement focused on dismantling the cash bail requirement, “With cash or money bail, individuals awaiting trial, plea bargain or a conclusion to their case must remain in jail unless they (or a relative, bail bond agent, etc.) can pay for their release.” 

Advocates nationwide will be coordinating to help free incarcerated Black mothers and caregivers in time for Mother’s Day. The bailouts are scheduled to start from May 6-12 into two dozen jurisdictions, including Cleveland, Memphis, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The movement was launched May 2017 with a campaign to post bail for Black mothers who would otherwise be separated from their children on Mother’s Day, the campaign helping to free 100 women and sparking year-round movements. Other fundraising events center around Father’s Day, Juneteenth and Pride. The campaign will continue to highlight local organizing efforts as activists, “call on legislators, judges and district attorneys to abolish the cash bail system.” Such cash bail systems punish people with continued incarceration for living in poverty. 

Nearly half a million people who have not been convicted of a crime are imprisoned on any given day because they can’t afford to pay bonds or bails, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. This system disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color including Black, Latinx and Native American women. Almost 70% of women in jail who can’t afford bail are mothers of children under the age of 16. 

National Bail Out Collective has also worked to bring to the forefront the issues of mass incarceration as it affects women. Marbre Stahley-Butts, founding member of the movement and executive director for Law for Black Lives, has argued that the discussion also needs to focus on women’s growing rates in prison. “We know that right now, women are the fastest growing prison population. There’s a real need to talk about how these systems impact women,’ said Stahly-Butts, who believes such conversations should be inclusive of queer and trans women. Describing mothers and caregivers largely as ‘the backbone of our communities,’ she told Essence, ‘When one of these women is taken away, it’s their children, partners, and the entire community that suffers.” Even if individuals are later cleared of charges, current bail systems can be detrimental to these families; they lose jobs, housing, and child custody as they are forced to sit behind bars. 

The movement and campaign work to end the racist and classist mechanisms that keep marginalized communities in jails without ever being convicted of crimes. Since its launch the National Bail Out Collective has helped secure the freedom of more than 300 individuals across the country, and $2 million have been raised by donors to fund bail and criminal justice reform work. This work also includes providing opportunities for previously incarcerated women. 

“National Bail Out is a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. We are people who have been impacted by cages—either by being in them ourselves or witnessing our families and loved ones be encaged. We are queer, young, elder, and immigrant.” 

You can still donate to help bring Black mothers home here.

(GIF Credit: National Bail Out)

Stop championing New Jersey as progressive: State and local politics are still a catastrophe

The state of New Jersey sure is getting a lot of hype to it; I haven’t been able to look at news articles about the state without some praise from progressive media about the great things New Jersey is accomplishing, now that Christie got the boot and Murphy got the in. There’s the minimum wage hike (which won’t go into effect until 2024); bills are being pushed to legalize marijuana (which stalled because of the lack of votes, despite being voted on multiple times during the Christie era); condemnation of Kavanaugh and the sexual violence against women from men in power (despite the fact that the same thing has happened in the Murphy Administration). The country only sees the great things that the state is doing from the headlines; read between the lines and you will see the way local and state politics have been marred by a toxic combination of conservativism, neoliberalism, and progressive political theater. 

New Jersey is about progressive as Joe Biden. A heartening meme but with some creepy undertones that no one wants near them. New Jersey is about as progressive as Cory Booker, who at once talks about not accepting corporate PAC money but then has a fundraiser at $28,000 per donor that ensures each donor a picture with Booker and Murphy, and dinner, and is hosted by Bon Jovi. New Jersey is the high and mighty condemnation of offshore drilling on our oceans while it being ok for a pipeline to be built in the Meadowlands. If I have twenty dollars for every time a progressive news outlet lauded the great choices of the Garden State, I still wouldn’t be able to live there because the property taxes are too high and the Democrats in office would rather pull money from public employees before passing a Millionaire’s Taxon the super wealthy individuals in the state.

In my home county, a judge whose father was a senator is only threatened with suspension, despite asking a domestic violence survivor whether she kept her legs closed to prevent her partner from raping her and then denyied her restraining order because he thought she wasn’t telling the truth. Essex County still won’t end a contract with ICE, citing safety concerns for the people they detain, while still making seven million dollars a month from holding them for ICE. 

Cops keeping beating people, and we know cops are pigs (and really actively acknowledge that—“Lakehurst cops are shit; cops gotta fill a quota at the end of the month; no, no, no, Manchester cops are worse”), but the moment a black boy or girl is shot, all I hear is Blue Lives Matter from the same people that call those in Blue assholes.

I have never been more sick and tired of hearing about the great Phil Murphy, even though I was optimistic that the administration won (because at least it wasn’t Kim Guadagno and her Christie taint). But now somehow the progressive policies that were championed in that era are suddenly too…too extreme or revolutionary now that Democrats are crawling towards a super majority in the state legislature. 

We should have had a living wage almost immediately, because small businesses aren’t a thing anymore in the state and Barnabas Health and Wakefern (all the Shoprite supermarket chains in the state and their warehouses and commissaries) are the state’s largest employers. If we really care about the environment in the state of New Jersey, all pipelines should be banned from being built and subsidized solar panels should be available to all residents so we can finally faze out electric companies. We should have not just lip service about affordable housing and lament on the cost of living in the state, but also clear-cut housing first and affordable housing options. And raise taxes on the wealthy in the state! I am sick and tired of passing by Deal on Route 71 and seeing mansions and knowing that those aren’t even primary houses but just summer homes!

We should be legalizing marijuana, no if, ands or buts and then expunge those who have been arrested and charged with marijuana charges, demand reparations for them, and help them create a business for those people instead of watching large corporations bank on the legalization of marijuana. 

I’m running for Governor in the Great State of New Jersey, because anyone knows the suffering of the people is inherently tied to the economic redistribution of wealth between the two classes of residents (a gap which is widening), it’s a Jersey girl who’s had to deal with the threat of foreclosure, late phone bills and electricity being turned off; it’s Sandy and then the giant snowstorm afterward that almost knocked a tree into her family’s run down house. It’s a girl who’d rather make sure that the employees in retail can live in the state (because she herself wouldn’t have been able to live in the state) instead of those poor millionaires who might have to leave their first and second homes if we raise their taxes. And when progressive news outlets put me on a title of their great next piece, it will be because of actual progressive policies that don’t have the stink of neoliberalism about it. 

(Photo Credit 1: PBS / Reuters / Eduardo Munoz) (Photo Credit 2: LSE US Centre)

It’s time to talk about mental illness and police brutality

Andrew Casciano

It was only supposed to be a simple call. Police in Paterson, NJ, were assisting in a phone call for a suicide attempt, and had met the victim at the St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, a little over a year ago. Later, as video emerged from the two police officers’ own recorded video, the victim was beaten and slapped by those officers—Ruben McAusland and Roger Then. The first footage shows the victim—Andrew Casciano—being slapped by McAusland in the waiting room of the emergency room as he is wheeled in.

The second footage, shot by Then with a shiteating grin on his face before the assault took place, shows McAusland reacting violently to a suicidal patient’s comments, slapping the man hard enough—twice—for blood to splatter on the bedsheets.

I have members of my family that work in behavioral health units. Under no circumstances are they to even consider touching a mentally ill patient unless they pose a direct and violent threat to the nursing staff or to themselves. There is extensive training to spot those risks. Casciano was laying in a hospital bed. His only weapon? A box of latex gloves that he threw at an officer. McAusland abused his authority and punched a man who, for all intents and purposes, was attempting to goad the police into killing him.

But the violence that McAusland and Then inflicted on Casciano is only part of the charges that have been leveled against them and four other Paterson police officers, including assault, dealing drugs and an attempted coverup. McAusland pleaded guilty to “possession and distribution of heroin, cocaine and marijuana—all of which he said he stole from a crime scene while he was on duty—and to depriving Casciano of his civil rights by assaulting him in prison.” McAusland was sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison. Then, who blamed the assault on McAusland, was sentenced to six months after pleading guilty to concealing the civil rights violation.  

The videos go a long way in illustrating the ways police officers abuse and violate the trust of the community in Paterson. They are also indicative of the ways in which the police and the entire criminal justice system are inherently abusive. 

Mentally ill individuals have not often been highlighted in police brutality; they are always considered an afterthought. Is it because we don’t legitimately view mental illnesses as real illnesses that could have devastating effects on people’s interactions with police? People with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter that other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement.

According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, though individuals with untreated mental illnesses number only 1 in 50 US adults, they are involved with at least 1 in 4, and as many as half of all fatal police shootings. According to the co-author of the study, executive director John Snook, “By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter. This is patently unfair, illogical and is proving harmful both to the individual in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.” 

I have had two very uncomfortable encounters with the police, both when I’ve been in the midst of panic attacks. The two officers ranged from casual indifference to outright belligerent rudeness. I did not feel safe in the company of those individuals. You can blame the lack of training the police officers have with mentally ill individuals; but it also highlights how policing is consistently and diametrically opposed to any kind of public safety or community safety, and that needs to end. 

(Photo Credit: Paterson Times)

March 25: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, working women’s safety, and why we don’t prosecute the rich

March 25th was the 108th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City, an event that killed 129 immigrant women (in total, 146 died) and has been remembered as one of the worst tragedies in American history. As immigrant men and women funneled into Ellis Island and settled in New York City, many men and women found jobs in factories, and industrial work. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory took up the top three floors in Greenwich Village. It was described as a sweatshop—employing Jewish and Immigrant women—creating button-down blouses in close-quarters for 12 hours each day, for a meager $15 a week. 

The safety of the women workers was never considered; it was never regarded as a concern. The women worked in close corners, with a corroded fire hose, no sprinkler system, an unreliable elevator (able to hold only 12 people and broken every four trips). The two staircases leading to the street had a locked door to access them, and the fire escape was too narrow for the 600 workers to file out quickly. 

On March 25, 2011, a fire broke out. With doors and fire exits locked and the sole fire escape broken as workers fled, firefighters were unable to enter the building and their ladders did not reach top floor. The age of the murdered women ranged from 16 to 23 years old. 

With outrage mounting and protests from workers, unions, and progressives, New York state investigated factory conditions and implemented workplace safety rules. And yet there was no justice for the deaths of the women. At best, the factory owners were negligent with the conditions of the women; at worst, corporate greed prevailed, and the owners should have faced manslaughter charges. Neither happened.  

The victims’ (mostly women, remember) lives amounted to nothing more than $75 per person, paid to families that sued the company. Justice was not for those workers and their families; justice is only for the extremely wealthy who didn’t give a care for the safety of the women creating excess in wealth for themselves. 

To this day, safety conditions for women workers remain a major issue in the United States and around the globe. Sweatshops in third world countries are still thriving, with women exploited everyday to create cheap merchandise to sell to Imperial countries. Incarcerated people are forced to work with poor conditions for less than what factory workers were getting a week. Large corporations are not held accountable for their poor conditions unless they are publicly shamed for their exploitation and abuse of workers. Even then, they’d rather launch a PR campaign than implement safer labor conditions. For the rich, working-class and poor women’s lives mean nothing; it’s cheaper to pay a token after the tragedy.

After the fire

(Image Credit: 5 Minute History) (Photo Credit: Smithsonian Magazine)

The wealthy bribe their way in the world; the poor just go to jail

Tanya McDowell addresses reporters

The newest college admissions scandals bring into focus the distorted and privileged ways the rich bribe their way to make sure their children get into prestigious colleges and Ivy League schools. Some of the more ridiculous attempts included a teenage girl who did not play soccer becoming a star soccer recruit at Yale for $1.2 million; a high school who was falsely deemed to have a learning disability so that he could have a proctor at a standardized test to get the right score to attend the University of South California for $50,000; a student whose parents paid $200,000 so that she could win a spot on the U.S.C. crew team, without any experience in rowing, by having another person in a boat submitted as evidence of a nonexistent skill. 

The outrageous attempts go on and on, in a scandal that led federal prosecutors to charged 50 people to buy spots in the freshman classes at Yale, Stanford and other major-leagued schools. Those wealthy parents included Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders, with more indictments to come. Top college athletic coaches were also implicated for accepting millions of dollars to help admit those undeserving students to those high-profile schools. And while the theoretical punishment carries a penalty of 20 years, it is highly unlikely that these wealthy people will face any serious prison time. They’ll get lighter sentences or alternative punishments: “The judge could actually impose a sentence of probation in cases like this. He could impose community service, public work service, or home confinement. There’s a wide range of options available to the judge.” 

Meanwhile, we continually imprison Black and Brown parents for longer periods of time for lesser offenses, including nonviolent drug offenses, minor misdemeanors, or something as simple as not being able to post bail, despite having committed no crime (16-year-old Kalief Browder was held at Rikers Island for three years because, accused of stealing a backpack, he couldn’t afford the $3,000 bail to get out).

Where is the sympathy and compassion for these individuals? Where is the leniency for those who have not committed a violent offense? If you’re not rich, there is no sympathy, compassion or leniency. None.

Consider Tanya McDowell, a homeless Bridgeport, CT mom who was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny for enrolling her son Andrew in a better school in neighboring Norfolk. McDowell eventually took a plea deal and was sentenced to five years in prison for sending her child to a better school district. To give her child a better education. In a hyper segregated country where there is nearly $23 billion more in state and local funding for white schools than predominantly nonwhite districts.  

It’s time for us to acknowledge that both prison and education have been set up so that only the wealthy and white get the best services. Wealthier members of society can “donate” their way into having children attend, even if they don’t deserve it; the wealthy can leave prison and serve house arrests in large mansions or pay lawyers to never “suffer” any kind of punishment whatsoever. To be poor means to be imprisoned for wanting your child to succeed and never being able to pay your way back out. 

(Photo Credit: Kathleen O’Rourke / Stamford Advocate) (Image Credit: A Different Drummer)

No one is free until we are all free!

Children are dying at detention centers on the border. ICE detention centers, which line the pockets of counties like Essex, New Jersey, with millions of dollars each month, have been reported with disgusting health and safety code violations, violating the cushy contracts. Undocumented immigrants in detention at the border have finally won their right to continue protesting with hunger strikes without the fear of nasal tube force feedings. In New Jersey, a Guatemalan toddler died in a state hospital, after being detained by ICE.  Her 104-degree fever was ignored before she was reunited with her family in the Garden State. a record number of babies are in detention, raising concerns about the children’s health and wellbeing; and the list goes on and on. 

We have reached a crisis moment in the United States when we can ignore the violence and the othering of people, denying them their humanity and justifying carceral violence as a penalty of illegality. Babies and children should not be in detention. Women fleeing violence should not be incarcerated; people should not be put behind bars.  

The bubbling incarceration rates of all people in this country, the ties to private prisons that give stockholders millions or billions for putting people behind bars for nonviolent crimes, drug crimes, crimes of self-defense, tickets, misdemeanors, children incarceration: all of this should not be. The crime of being poor and being black or being brown should not be. The lists of should-not-be are endless.

We have more in common with undocumented immigrants in our community, working hard to raise and provide for their families each day, than we do with the billionaires sitting in the oval office and the capitol buildings. We have more in common with the incarcerated than we do with Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Betsy Devos. We have more in common with the impoverished and homeless than we do with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The threat of homelessness looms over many in this country, including those who claim to be members of the middle class. I have known the certified letters from mortgage companies, threatening foreclosure and homelessness. Many can relate to earning the bare minimum and working until our bodies have deteriorated. For someone whose entire political career involves an obscene amount of “executive time”, he does not understand the calloused fingers and sore feet of working twelve, fifteen hour shifts and then waking up the next morning to do it again. 

We will not become a nation for the people, until we understand that we are all together, all people, all humans, deserving of dignity and humanity, and that we deserve not bars but homes and healthcare, rehabilitation and not violence and felony charges. Prisons give those in power the ability to de-humanize and then justify no one deserving basic human rights: why should the criminal get healthcare when you work for it; why is Narcan for the drug addict free but my medication prices will kill me?

When you realize that the politicians won’t save you, but your common man and women will, then one must organize to demand an end to the inequality and inhumanity in this country and the world. To begin, we must destroy the prison industrial complex.

(Photo Credit: Dialectical Delinquents)